Entertainment July 9, 2017
Sympathy mistaken for explanation.
Last season of “Orange Is the New Black,” my grandmother yelled, “What is going on?!”
This was because I was screaming at the television from the pit of my very soul. CO Bayley (Alan Aisenberg) had just murdered Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley), the show’s cinnamon roll, and arguably the soul of “OINTB.”
The show then had the Warden of Litchfield prison uphold CO Bayley’s integrity to the media. That set up the riot and thus the whole of “Orange Is the New Black’s” season five. In the year that we waited for the show’s return and for some resolution to the injustice of the Poussey Washington death, the marketing campaign for the coming season disturbed me.
— Orange Is the New… (@OITNB) May 5, 2017
They were asking the show’s fans to “Hashtag” Poussey’s name on social media. They painted murals of Samira Wiley’s gorgeous mug in major cities, attaching to her death the phrase “Say her name.”
“Say her/his name” is a phrase reserved for victims of brutality. Real people. People like Philando Castille (unarmed), whose killer was just acquitted of murder. Like Terence Crutcher (unarmed), whose killer was just acquitted of murder. People like Sandra Bland. Like Freddie Gray. And Eric Garner. And Oscar Grant. Individuals who so often forgo justice.
It put pins and needle in my spine. I got what “OITNB” was going for though, so I held my tongue, reserving judgement for after my season five viewing.
I sat through episode after episode waiting for something to herald a championing of Poussey as an individual. Outside of Taystee’s campaign to have Baylee arrested, we got a séance that was mostly for comedic affect and the “library without walls” from Soso (Kimiko Glenn).
But the most infuriating depiction of fallout was seeing Poussey’s murderer, CO Bayley, getting a personalized pity party. Bayley was depicted as a young scamp who made a mistake at the end of season four, leading Caputo to protect him. Poussey’s death was depicted as a moment of panic. An accident.
Let me tell you: CO Bayley is not a kid. He is a grown ass man. But nobody seems to know that –including Bayley. He spends each of his solo moments blubbering. His parents coddle him. The police coddle him when he attempts to turn himself in.
And he has the audacity to go to the home of Poussey’s father to ask forgiveness. All of that in some convoluted attempt to show us that he’s not a “bad” guy.
Then “OINTB” somehow got more offensive by attempting to humanize the most abusive psychopathic character on the show, CO Piscatella. They delve into his backstory to his first position as a CO where a “romance” develops with a prisoner. (A CO having a romantic/sexual relationship with a prisoner is assault no matter how you slice it. Bennett is no better.)
And as a viewer it feels like you’re supposed to go, “Ohhhh, that’s why Piscatella tortures people.” But it doesn’t explain why Piscatella HATES women (a frequent gay male stereotype multiplied by 1000).
I understand what “OITNB” was trying to say. Everyone has their reasons for who they become. It’s a cornerstone of the series. But to liken it to the epidemic of police brutality and the onslaught against black lives and then attempt to humanize the villains is a huge misstep.
Starting with the fact that a great deal of the officers in police violence cases or shootings had previous complaints of excessive force or misconduct filed against them. The officers in the Alton Sterling case had four complaints filed against them. The officer in the Terence Crutcher case had two complaints filed against her.
These people have histories. One. thing. Does. Not. Turn. You. Into. A. Murderer. Sure, we all start out pure of heart, but our environments and our psychologies influence who we become over a great deal of time. And while every man can change, that takes time as well.
Piscatella didn’t just throw a man into a shower and let him burn alive because he beat up his boyfriend. And by giving him a fool’s death instead of having him face justice, the writers let the viewers down.
Just like they let us down when all of Taystee’s demands are ignored because her justice-seeking has turned into a battle for her pride. And like they let us down when Pennsatucky ended the season in her rapist’s arms. Like they let us down when Bayley showed up on Poussey’s doorstep to apologize. These women don’t get apologies.
Seeing Poussey die will never be the same as watching Philando Castille die and thinking, “Surely, that man won’t get away with this.” Then watching them do just that. Again and again.
If we want to be realistic, CO Bayley should’ve gone home, gotten some sleep and then told the press, “If that woman could brew prison hooch, who knows what she could’ve done to me.”
These victims don’t get sympathy from their killers. And their killers won’t get any sympathy from me.
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